Coverage of Contra-Crack
20 Dec 1996 21:52:42 EDT

From: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting <>

FAIR Press Release December 18, 1996


A national media watch group today released a report highly
critical of major media reaction to the San Jose Mercury News
series linking the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contras to the spread of
crack cocaine in urban America.

The report, to be published next month by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy
In Reporting), focuses on three newspapers - the Washington Post,
New York Times and Los Angeles Times - which have printed lengthy
articles attacking the Mercury News series.

Noting that the assessments by those three newspapers are "still
reverberating in the national media's echo chamber," FAIR's report
faults the papers for heavy reliance on official sources inside the
CIA and other agencies with vested interests in undercutting the
Mercury News accounts. FAIR's report (to be published in the
Jan./Feb. 1997 EXTRA!) also highlights a history of national media
suppression and marginalization of the contra-cocaine story in the

* FAIR's researchers found that Mercury News reporter Gary Webb was
frequently assailed for failing to prove what he had never claimed
in the first place. The report points out that Webb's series did
not assert the CIA was guilty of dealing crack in U.S. inner
cities. Some of the attacks harped on "what Webb had already
acknowledged in his articles - that while he proves contra links
to major cocaine importation, he can't identify specific CIA
officials who knew of or condoned the trafficking."

* "Journalistic critics of the Mercury News offered little to rebut
the paper's specific pieces of evidence" - including testimony and
law enforcement documents and comments - indicating that a pair of
Nicaraguan cocaine traffickers "may have been protected by federal

* Although the Washington Post in particular took issue with the
Mercury News for referring to the Nicaraguan contras as "the CIA's
army," the FAIR report describes use of the phrase as "solid
journalism" that highlights a relationship "fundamentally relevant
to the story. The army was formed at the instigation of the CIA,
its leaders were selected by and received salaries from the agency,
and CIA officers controlled day-to-day battlefield strategies." The
report criticizes what it calls a "newsroom culture of denial" that
dodged such historical realities.

* The Los Angeles Times joined the other two dailies in downplaying
the importance of crack dealer Ricky Ross, who was supplied by a
pair of Nicaraguan cocaine smugglers linked to the Contras. Yet two
years ago (12/20/94), the Los Angeles Times described Ross as the
"king of crack" whose "coast-to-coast conglomerate" was
responsible for "a staggering turnover that put the drug within
reach of anyone with a few dollars." FAIR's report notes that the
L.A. Times reversal on Ross "reads like a show-trial

* Depictions of African-Americans as prone to paranoia "quickly
became a stylish media fixation," the report charged. "This theme
of black paranoia accompanied all three of the major papers'
attacks on the Mercury News series." Ironically, FAIR concluded,
top editors at the Washington Post, New York Times and L.A. Times
ended up ignoring evidence that did not fit their preconceived
outlook - "the true mark of the delusional mindset."

* The FAIR report concludes that the high-profile attacks on the
Mercury News by the New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times
"were clearly driven by a need to defend their shoddy record on the
contra-cocaine story - involving a decade-long suppression of
evidence." In recent months, those papers have promoted "the notion
that contra participation in drug trafficking is old news - a
particularly ironic claim coming from newspapers that went out of
their way to ignore or disparage key information during the 1980s."
(The obstruction of a 1987 report on contra-cocaine links by Time
magazine is also noted.)

The full report will be available on FAIR's web page:
To subscribe to FAIR's magazine, EXTRA!, call 800-847-3993 during
East coast business hours.

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